Literature

Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger is an NBCC Award finalist

January 18, 2017
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Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger is an NBCC Award finalist

Congrats to Alice Kaplan, the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale University, whose most recent book Looking for The Stranger: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic, was named a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. The honor is nothing new for Kaplan—two of her previous books, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (which was also nominated for a National Book Award) and French Lessons: A Memoir, were also finalists, in the general nonfiction and autobiography/biography categories. The National Book Critics Circle awards, selected by a rotating group of rotating professional book review editors and critics, “honor the best literature published in the United States in six categories—autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.” Stay tuned: winners will be announced on March 16, 2017, in a ceremony at the New School. To read more about Looking for The Stranger, click here. . . .

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The New Yorker on The Daily Henry James

January 6, 2017
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The New Yorker on The Daily Henry James

Below follows an excerpt from a recent profile in the New Yorker about The Daily Henry James: A Year of Quotes from the Work of the Master, first published as a limited edition in 1911, and back for the masses in the new year, with a foreword by Michael Gorra, c/o the University of Chicago Press. Read the original, in full, here. *** In his preface to the New York edition of “Roderick Hudson,” James wrote, “Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw . . . the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.” In “The Daily Henry James,” relations begin nowhere: the fragments have no connection to one another, and don’t add up to any meaningful narrative. The result is that the book offers Jamesian atmosphere rather than Jamesian plots: flicking through the anthology, you experience the elements that make up James’s novels in the way that you might experience them in real life. You see characters briefly, as at a party or in the street; virtually every page provides an observation on the American character, a description of the grounds of an English country house, a fastidious young man reflecting on the character . . .

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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

January 4, 2017
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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

Critic, writer, and playwright John Berger (1925–2017), one of the twentieth century’s most important art critical voices (linking to the Guardian piece, as its the most thorough) died on January 2, 2017. Best known for the four-part BBC series Ways of Seeing (1972) and its accompanying critical text, Berger there offered a Marxist response to another (banal and apolitical) take on the history of culture, also produced by the BBC, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hyperallergic was first with a tribute, which includes this anecdote: Speaking to Kate Kellaway, Berger explained his interest in labor and social issues. “The connection between the human condition and labour is frequently forgotten, and for me was always so important. At 16, I went down a coal mine in Derbyshire and spent a day on the coal face – just watching the miners. It had a profound effect,” he told her. When she asked how it made him feel. He responded quietly. “Respect. Just respect. There are two kinds. Respect to do with ceremony – what happens when you visit the House of Lords. And a completely different respect associated with danger,” he said. “This is not a prescription for others, but when I look back on my life I think it’s very significant I . . .

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The little reprint that could: Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah

December 23, 2016
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The little reprint that could: Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah

Over at Steve Reads, Steve Donoghue from Open Letters Monthly recently counted down his top ten reprints of the year. Number one? Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah: A Novel, a fictional take on the rise and fall of a mid-century Irish-American politician and the unstable democratic machine that lifted him up and plopped him back down, inspired by the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley. As Donoghue writes: “The absolutely winning production of this, the best reprint of 2016 includes a rollicking Introduction by Jack Beatty, an understated, smile-inducing new cover design, and of course the main event, O’Connor’s utterly masterful dark comedy of American politics, which is as funny and insightful today as it was the year it was written.” Still time to tuck this one under your menorah, tree, or secular mantelpiece. . . . in the meantime, we’re taking a week’s hiatus—see you on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017. To read more about The Last Hurrah, click here.   . . .

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Big Bosses at the Chicago Tribune

December 19, 2016
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Big Bosses at the Chicago Tribune

From a recent review of Althea McDowell Altemus’s Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America, at the Chicago Tribune: This professional typewriter and her trusty typewriter give the reader tales that are of immense social, historical and feminist significance. Of the flagrantly discriminatory hiring practices faced by female job seekers, she writes, “Whatever crime it is for a woman … to wish to earn her own living and keep her child with her, I do not know — but crime it seems to be.” Yet so, too, are her tales dishy, witty and a ton of fun. Of one of the many decadent poolside parties Deering threw at Vizcaya, Altemus writes, “Only the tropic moon could ever know what the philanderers and their filomels found so satisfying in this pool and even romantic moonlight couldn’t penetrate the awning roofed cabanas in the pines.” Her situation — a bright, driven woman required by circumstance to support herself financially — was not atypical. But her famous employers were, including such men as Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison; New York banker S.W. Straus; real estate developer Fred F. French; a Swiss architect; and a jeweler whose primary clients were prostitutes. In doing . . .

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Out of the Wreck I Rise on Weekend Edition

December 14, 2016
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Out of the Wreck I Rise on Weekend Edition

Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, editors of Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery, recently sat down with the hosts of NPR’s Weekend Edition to discuss their pathbreaking anthology, which makes use of the longstanding and complicated relationship between creativity and addiction to offer a resource for the seventeen million plus adults living afflicted in the United States alone. *** From the transcript: SIMON (host): Let me ask you, Neil, what’s the thinking behind this anthology? STEINBERG: Recovery is difficult. And it’s hard enough just chemically giving up the substance you crave, but it’s also hard intellectually and emotionally.           You’re giving up something you love, and you have to replace it with something. And I wanted to try to replace it with a story, with a narrative that recovery is the path of the hero. And Sara and I try to use that by using quotes from poems and songs and stories and letters from these writers throughout time who faced the same challenge and wrote about it. And the purpose of the book – we call it a companion so that it goes with you and helps you on this very difficult journey. SIMON: . . .

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Mary Cappello at Essay Daily

December 7, 2016
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Mary Cappello at Essay Daily

Below follows an excerpt from a recent interview with Mary Cappello at Essay Daily about Life Breaks In, her exegesis (or, biography) (or, as the subtitle states, “almanack”) of mood, which captures the spirit of associative thinking and lyrical fluency that propels the book. *** Q: How much of mood is like trying to describe the uncanny—or—how important is the uncanny to writing nonfiction? A: I hope you don’t mind if I refer to an interview I carried out around my previous book, Swallow, in which I discuss the importance of the uncanny to my work and to nonfiction generally: http://www.propellermag.com/Fall2011/Cappellofall11.html I think the uncanny is at the heart of literary nonfiction. The places where the real slip-slides with something unrecognizable, where the familiar and the strange switch places. Cognitive dissonance. Home not home. The pleasure and necessity of altered states. At the risk of sounding psycho, I’d like to use the occasion of your question to try to put into words an “episode” I experienced in these days following the 2016 presidential election for the way it speaks to the alteration of the “real” as some of us know it. What Freud says about the uncanny is that, when we’re in its midst, there’s . . .

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Alice in Space (in Nature)

November 30, 2016
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Alice in Space (in Nature)

Gillian Beer wrote “History: Untangling Alice” for Nature, synthesizing some of the research from her book Alice In Space, which examines the Alice books by Lewis Carroll via the immediate context in which they landed: the 1860s, a decade rife with new languages and concepts drawn from scientific, linguistic, and educational developments. (Note: this book is so great!) In Beer’s words: When I started writing it more than a decade ago, I wondered how far intuition and familiarity with Victorian intellectual culture should take me in asserting Carroll’s participation in the ideas thronging around him. I had to rely on the Alice books for evidence of allusion and parodies. Now I have a fuller picture of how Carroll used fantasy to pursue thoughts — on radical mathematics and Boolean logic, for example — that he constrained in his professional life as a devout Euclidean. The Victorian culture within which the Alice books were written is largely invisible to us now. It was a period of immense intellectual upheaval in fields from mathematics to language theory, evolution and education. Carroll slips these ideas into the layers of his jokes, sliding infant puns above learned references. He had a teasing openness to the ideas being pursued by his contemporaries . . .

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Norte in the New York Times

November 21, 2016
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Norte in the New York Times

Praise from the New York Times Book Review for Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte, the story of three unconnected persons, some drawn from real life, who travel north of the US–Mexico border: This searing novel about three Latinos lost north of the border is not for the faint of heart. In the opening chapter, Jesús — based on a Mexican serial murderer known as the Railroad Killer — gang-rapes and stabs a prostitute. As Jesús, both victim and monster, slips into drugs, sexual abuse, psychosis, incest and necrophilia, Paz Soldán perfectly modulates the tension, evincing our sympathy even as we recoil. . . . “One should show compassion to all creatures scrabbling along their path in life, should be willing to throw a cloak of pity over the shoulders of even a man like Jesús,” the ranger leading the manhunt ponders. We don’t forgive, but we understand. This is the Bolivian-born Paz Soldán’s miraculous gift. With unflinching realism and steely grace, “Norte” reminds us why literature can do what journalism cannot: We inhabit the minds of people we’d prefer to forget. To read the New York Times Book Review piece in full, click here. To read more about Norte, click here. . . .

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Staff Profile: Levi Stahl on community and the Parker novels

November 16, 2016
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Staff Profile: Levi Stahl on community and the Parker novels

It’s #UPWeek, and you can read more about it here. The theme—for year 38, the 79th university of the AAUP—is community, and with that in mind, we asked associate marketing director Levi Stahl to talk a bit about a series of crime noir qua boilerplate mystery novels written by Donald E. Westlake, under the pseudonym Richard Stark, and  Stahl’s effort to tap into the community surrounding the cult novelist, an unusual move by a university press:             Reading is a solitary activity. That’s one of its glories.  But for a lot of us, it’s also just the first step. After reading, we want to tell people about what we’ve read, recommend it, discuss it, argue about it. And that’s where community begins. We experienced that, powerfully, back in 2008, when we decided to bring back into print Richard Stark’s crime novels featuring Parker the heister. We knew they were brilliant crime novels and that people over the years had loved them. What we learned very quickly, however, was that by bringing these back, we were joining the crime fiction community—and those are readers who aren’t shy about sharing their enthusiasm. The excitement, seen everywhere from . . .

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